Transcript: Sen. Mark Warner’s Q&A on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director

Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Sen. Mark Warner’s Q&A on the nomination of White House Counter-Terrorism Adviser John Brennan as the next CIA Director. The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was held on Feb. 7, 2013:

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.):
…One of the things I think we’ve heard from a number of my colleagues and we had this discussion when we discussed the committee’s study on detention and interrogation is how – should you be confirmed – how do we ensure that the CIA Director is always going to be
well-informed…We’ve questioned you today about a number of key sensitive programs. The nature of this agency’s work is that a lot of these programs are disparate, varied, and there needs to be some ability to measure objectively the success of these programs, not simply by those individuals that are implementing the programs…How you might set up systems so that to the best extent possible as the CIA Director you’re going to make sure what’s going on get an accurate, objective review and not simply have the information that’s simply bucks up to the system.

John Brennan:
Yes, that’s an excellent point, Senator, one that I’m very concerned about. In order to have objective measures of effectiveness, the metrics that you want to be able to evaluate the worth of a program – you cannot have the individuals who are responsible for carrying it out. As hard as they might try, they cannot help, I think, view the
program and the results in a certain way. They become witting or unwitting advocates for it. So what we need to do is to set up some type of system where you can have confidence that those measures of effectiveness are being done in the most independent and objective way. That’s one of the things that I want to make sure I take a look at if I were to go to the agency.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.):
Again, the nature of so many programs are very sensitive in nature. You know, you almost have to have as we discussed probably not an IG [Inspector General] type of vehicle but something that is more run out of the Director’s office. But you got to have some kind of red team that’s going to be able to check this information out to make sure that you’ve got – so that you hear colleagues here press on what you would have done or could have done or should have done – or if you have that oversight, you have that objective information to start with.

John Brennan:
Absolutely, and I tend to have a reputation for being a very detailed person. And having been an analyst and intelligence officer for many years, I need to see the data. I cannot rely just on some interpretation of it. So I do very much look forward to finding a way that the director’s office can have this ability to independently evaluate these programs so that I can fairly and accurately represent them to you. I need to be able to have confidence myself.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.):
As you know and we all know, our country is grappling with enormous fiscal challenges and that means while national security remains our most essential requirement for our national government, everything’s going to have to be able to be done in a fiscally constrained period. How are you going to think about thinking through those challenges on where cuts, changes need to be made? And if you could specifically outline one of the concerns that I have is kind of the division of labor and appropriate roles between the CIA and DOD SOCOM [Special Operations Command] operations? Whether that kind of potential build-up in that capacity is – how do we get that done in these tight budget times?

John Brennan:
In a fiscally constrained environment, we have to make sure more than ever that every single dollar that’s dedicated to intelligence is going to be optimized. And in fact, if sequestration kicks in, what I wouldn’t want to do as CIA Director is do those salami slicing, which you know is 5% off the tops of all the programs because all programs are not…

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.):
One of the reasons why we need to make sure sequestration does not [take effect]…

John Brennan:
Absolutely right. Because it’s going to have a devastating impact on the national security of this country. And so I would want to make sure, even if that doesn’t happen, in a fiscally constrained environment that I look at the programs and prioritize, and we really have to take a look at what are those programs that we really need to resource appropriately as we’re going to have – and we’ve had some – benefits from pulling folks out of Iraq and with the continued drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. There’s going to be some resources and assets we’re going to have to allocate – reallocate there. So I’ll
look very carefully at that. So what I want to do is to make sure that if I go to CIA I have an understanding about exactly how these monies are being spent.

Then, as you point out, there is quite a bit of intelligence capability within the Defense Department, and I know there’s been recent press reports about the Clandestine Human Services – the Defense Clandestine Service – and its work with, in fact, the CIA. I want to make sure that these efforts are not going to be redundant whatsoever. I’ve had conversations with Mike Morell as well as with Gen. [Michael] Flynn over at DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] to make sure that these efforts are going to truly be integrated and complementary, because we cannot have unnecessary redundant capabilities in this government particularly in the environment that we have right now on the fiscal front.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.):
I think this is an area that’s going to need a lot of attention and a lot of oversight. I get concerned at times that the IC [intelligence community] on one hand, the DOD on the other hand think they’re coming from separate originators of funding and ultimately they still have to be within the greater budget constraints…

Your background and most of your expertise has been on the CT side. Clearly the challenge that we’ve got as we see emerging threats from parts of the world that were not on the front line as we see disruptions…particularly through the Middle East, where perhaps in retrospect we didn’t have the right kind of coverage on social media and on to the street. How do we make sure we’re going to get within the kind of fiscal constraints that we don’t go complete CT that we make sure we’ve got the coverage we need, the capabilities we need, and the worldwide coverage we need with your approach, particularly with your background?

John Brennan:
Well, clearly counter-terrorism is going to be a priority area for the intelligence community and for the CIA for many years to come just like weapons proliferation is as well. Those are enduring challenges. And since 9/11 the CIA has dedicated a lot of effort – and very successful; they’ve done a tremendous job – to mitigate that terrorist
threat.

At the same time, though, they do have this responsibility on global coverage. And so what I need to take a look at is whether or not there has been too much of an emphasis on this CT front. As good as it is, we have to make sure that we’re not going to be surprised on the strategic front in some of these other areas, to make sure that we’re
dedicating the collection capabilities, the operations officers, the all-source analysts.

Social media – as you said the so-called “Arab Spring” that swept through the Middle East – it didn’t lend itself to traditional types of intelligence collection. There were things that were happening in a populist way that having somebody well-positioned somewhere who could provide this information is not going to give us that insight [as] social media, other types of things. So I want to see if we can expand beyond the soda straw collection capabilities that have served us very well and see what else we need to do in order to take into account the changing nature of the global environment right now, the changing nature of the communications systems that exists worldwide.

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